The importance of sustainable event planning

The time is now for event planners to host eco-friendly events using an effective sustainable event planning strategy.

Organizations that hold or manage large events such as conferences, business meetings, concerts, fairs, weddings, or any large get-together need to consider the impact these events have on the planet.

The typical conference attendee produces more than four pounds of waste and nearly 400 pounds of CO2 emissions a day. – Meet Green, The Environmental Impact of the Events Industry

If you’re an event planner, you should organize your events so that they impact the community, the environment, and the economy positively. This guide reviews eight fundamental tips every event planner should institute. But before we detail these tips, let’s first take a look at how events impact the environment.

How do events affect the environment?

We’ve listed the main environmental issues that stem from event planning below, which are:

  • Events generate excessive amounts of waste that end up in landfills;
  • Events consume a large amount of energy on-site;
  • Events consume a large amount of waste on-site;
  • Transportation to and from the event is energy-intensive and spews greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs);
  • Events use a large amount of paper, detrimental to our forest ecosystems;
  • Events use toxic cleaning supplies and detergents, which are harmful to the environment;
  • Events can cause excessive noise pollution.

Sustainable event planning guide

Event planners must have a defined strategy for the events they organize to be successful and sustainable. They should consider implementing responsible and sustainable initiatives, and setting targets to keep their events on track. Venue-sourcing and events platform, Hire Space, has a useful guide on setting and measuring sustainable event objectives to help with this. Below we’ve detailed the top eight green initiatives event planners should implement, to address the main environmental impacts caused from running an event.

Tip #1: Implement an effective waste management system

A typical event attendee is estimated to generate 4.17 pounds of waste per day, of which 85% is said to end up in landfills. To divert waste items away from landfills and to meet the demands of a circular economy, you’ll need an effective waste management system, which is comprised of the following key elements:

  • Waste recycling: Waste items such as plastic, glass, aluminum, and food can be recycled. Bring in recycling bins on-site to separate these items appropriately. This will allow an organized classification of waste to kick-start the recycling process. By recycling, less raw materials, energy, water, and chemicals are used to produce new products.
  • Reducing waste: Waste reduction should be your first point of call, which demands accurate forecasting. Look at historical data if it’s available to make your estimations for how much stuff is needed to run your event.
  • Switch to eco-friendly materials: Buy paper and supplies made from eco-friendly materials, such as plates, cups, and utensils. For instance, Viva Terra has a SeaGlass collection, which is made from 100% recycled glass. Also, take a look at bamboo compostable dinnerware.

For more information, the city of Folsom has developed a waste management guide that includes valuable information on the processes of recycling and the collection of waste at events.

Tip #2: Reduce energy consumption on-site

Firstly, make sure you’re supporting the renewable energy market by switching to a green tariff, or by purchasing a Renewable Energy Certificate. If you have the resources, you could even install your own renewable energy source on-site.

Secondly, you’ll need to estimate how much energy the event will demand. If you’re running an event inside a building, then 44% of that building’s energy consumption is attributed to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment, and 28% to lighting equipment. If you own the building, then target these areas that demand the most waste by implementing energy efficiency strategies such as switching to low-energy LED luminaires, and using low-consumption heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment.

If you rent buildings out to host your events, then look for buildings that are LEED certified. The LEED Certification system is a recognized framework that ensures buildings are healthy, efficient, and carbon-saving green buildings.

Tip #3: Reduce on-site water use

Large events, such as the UK’s Glastonbury festival, can use as much as 10,000m3 of water during the course of the event. Hence, to be truly sustainable, water management plays a fundamental role in event planning.

To use less water at your event, look to implement the following initiatives, as given by the City of Adelaide Sustainable Events: Water Efficiency report :

  • Consider the season and the temperature range on the day of the scheduled event, and plan water accordingly.
  • Choose a venue with water efficiency measures and designs in place, or one that recycles water.
  • Choose a venue with drinking fountains or hire out temporary water stations.
  • Implement or select venues that have water-efficient appliances such as dual flush toilets, low flow taps and showers, and taps and showers that turn off automatically. Also, seek out appliances that are rated four stars or higher on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS).
  • Conduct an audit of the site and fix any leaks before the event.
  • When hiring toilets for the event, select a provider who is water-efficient or uses grey water safely, and has correct wastewater disposal processes.
  • Avoid using water for cleaning, when it’s possible to use other methods, such as sweeping.
  • Educate and encourage stakeholders to use water wisely, and maintain the water quality with conscious product use and wastewater disposal.
  • Give staff a detailed brief about the available facilities and the event’s water-saving initiatives.
  • Ensure water refill stations are centrally located with clear labeling to show their location on electronic maps.
  • Provide wastewater containers to vendors and dispose of contents appropriately.
  • Document opportunities and learnings for the next event and track your progress.

For inspiration, take a look at how TOTO, a Japanese toilet provider, has developed the world’s leading water-saving restrooms.

Tip #4: Use eco-friendly transportation

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the transportation sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States, accounting for 27% of the nation’s total emissions. If we consider the cost of transportation from an economic perspective, such costs have increased substantially in the last year. That is according to yahoo finance (2022) and using one barrel of oil as a reference price, which was $110.48 on the 17th June 2022.

Consequently, using an eco-friendly transportation system makes sense, to support your organization’s bottom line and the environment. With this in mind, check out the Green Business Bureau‘s blog article Sustainable Business Travel: How Companies Can Minimize the Environmental Impact of Corporate Travel. There are two main choices described in this article, the first is to reduce travel in the first place and the second is to encourage alternative forms of transportation – such as carpooling, ridesharing, and using public transport.

However, there’s only so much you can do as transportation emissions to and from the event are inevitable. Once you’ve implemented strategies to lower such emissions in the first place, take a look at carbon offset schemes to mitigate the remaining GHG emissions. You’ll want to invest in certified and vetted offset programs to ensure the offsets you purchase make the carbon reductions they claim to make. To choose the right offset program, read: How To Buy Carbon Offsets: 6 Certified and Vetted Options.

Tip #5: Go paperless

23% of the world’s municipal solid waste is paper. This, combined with wasted wood, would allow for 50,000,000 homes to be heated for 20 years. If we take a look at the United States precisely, nearly one billion trees are cut for the paper manufacturing process, with 85,000,000 tons of paper (~680 pounds per person) used annually.

For your event, do you use paper invitations? Brochures? Posters? If so, consider the following scenario. Let’s say you’re holding an exhibition that has the capacity to host 10k attendees. You want to give each attendee a brochure, meaning that’s 10k exhibition brochures to print out. Now, let’s say each brochure weighs 20g, this gives a total of 3 tonnes of paper used on brochures only. Under this scenario, you can see how going digital will allow you to reduce the amount of paper used during your events significantly.

For instance, consider using digital QR codes for the event invitations. These codes can direct the event attendees to the appropriate webpage, from which they can sign up for the event online. Or, if you’re hosting an exhibition, create an online PDF brochure attendees can access on their phone.

Also, look to go digital during the event planning process. For instance, GBB member the Doyle Group, is moving away from printing and paper waste by using online document storage and communication platforms. They have also completely done away with paper and plastic cups (plus other kitchen utensils). Today, the company is almost entirely paperless.

Tip #6: Hold virtual events

Consider the option of holding your event virtually. For one, this will help you reach a global audience for networking and also facilitates feedback from attendees.

Yet, it’s the environmental benefits that make virtual events worth while. In our article Remote Work Sustainability: Environmental Benefits Of Working At Home, we explain the benefits of remote work in detail. These benefits can easily be applied to event hosting, as we’ve summarized below:

  • Fewer emissions: Event attendees don’t have to commute to a specific location, lowering the transportation emissions tied to an event. Some state that transportation to an event accounts for 90% of that event’s emissions.
  • Less building space demanded: Hosting virtual events means there’s no need for venue space, removing the environmental impacts that happen on-site mentioned above.

To help you plan an effective online event, check out virtual event platforms, such as Weve, Confetti, Outback Team Building, and Green Business Bureau member Impetus Digital.

Looking at Impetus Digital specifically, the company provides an interactive platform that connects participants from near and far, replacing in-person events and meetings with remote alternatives. Using a diverse range of synchronous and asynchronous online tools, clients can facilitate discussions, educate, collect insight, and share data reliably with no need to travel.

Tip #7: Switch to non-toxic biodegradable detergents and cleaning supplies

Many commercial chemical cleaning products pollute our environment with harmful, fossil-fuel-derived chemicals that can wash into water courses. Some of these chemicals can then persist in nature, entering food chains, and ultimately harming human health. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can be found in some products, which damage the ozone layer when released into the environment.

Yet, you can use alternatives that are healthier for you and our planet. Look for certified bio-based cleaning products. These products avoid fossil-fuel-derived ingredients and instead use enzymes and plant-based ingredients. Yet, such products aren’t automatically environmentally friendly, but those that cause relatively minor harm are allowed to market themselves as such.

With this tip in mind, EcoWatch listed their seven best ecological cleaning products in their 2021 article 7 Best Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products of 2022. In this article, EcoWatch also described the main characteristics we should look for when purchasing these products. The main features are:

  • Product formula – look for ecofriendly, non-toxic, and safe ingredients.
  • Certifications – look for EPA Safer Choice-Certified.
  • Cleaning ability.
  • Buyers’ reviews – look for reviews that are at least four out of five stars.

Tip #8: Reduce noise using noise reduction equipment

For any event, noise management must be diligent and conducted by sound specialists and event managers. The objective of event noise management is to maintain a high sound quality that satisfies event attendees and, at the same time, complies with current sound legislation and health laws.

With this in mind, check out EchoBarrier. This company provides noise reduction and mitigation solutions for different industries such as outdoor events and concerts, construction, and manufacturing.

The below video explains how this noise reduction technology works and makes for an interesting watch!

Certify your sustainable event planning agency with green business certification

Creating a sustainable event is not limited to the eight tips given in this article. These tips merely lay out the foundation of your event sustainability program, on which you can then build a more thorough and detailed green plan. And signing up for the Green Business Bureau (GBB) will help you do just this.

GBB’s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment host over 400+ green initiatives you can choose from to make your event more sustainable. Once more, you can demonstrate your commitment to sustainability using GBB’s Green Seal, obtaining certification for your efforts. The public can click on your online Green Seal to view what green initiatives you’ve successfully implemented in your business, giving ultimate transparency over your green journey. This way, you can showcase your achievements accurately while continuing to highlight ways to improve the sustainability of your event.

Sign up for the Green BUisness Bureau here to get certified!

Rafael has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and Master in Business Administration from the University of Lima. Rafael is currently pursuing a Concurrent Master of Science degree in Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies and in Global Sustainability, with an Energy concentration, at the University of South Florida. Rafael has more than twenty-five years of working experience as an Executive and as a Business and Finance Consultant. He is passionate about applying his academic and working experience to helping people and organizations understand the importance of protecting the environment and communities. He loves to spend time with his family and attend sports and music venues.

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